KLAY Community Conversations
Nov. 3, 2017
District Representative: Holly Shaffer
Holly Shaffer’s career in Clover Park School District spans more than 20 years. She began her career as a teacher, has been an elementary school principal and has served as the CPSD’s director of student services for seven years. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Pacific Lutheran University; her master’s degree from Gonzaga University and superintendent’s credentials from Washington State University.
Topic: Attendance and Community Truancy Boards
I think most of us know that attending school is important. Why is there such an emphasis on it now?
You are right…attending school on time, every day is important.
Research shows there’s a direct connection between attendance and achievement.
In pre-school and kindergarten, too many absences are associated with weaker reading skills, higher retention rates and slower development of social skills.
Graduation rates and academic success decrease when students aren’t in school. School attendance is critical even in kindergarten! If students aren’t in school, they don’t learn. Improving school attendance improves success in school.
Chronic absenteeism is a proven early warning sign of academic risk and school dropout.
What has changed?
Well, to begin with, we have new legislation regarding school attendance and truancy (chronic absenteeism). Our state legislature passed into law Second Substitute House Bill 1170, which clarifies the responsibilities of schools and courts, creates more flexibility for school districts and adds new reporting requirements.
The legislation is based on a lot of research related to attendance and student achievement.
Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent or more school days for any reason (including excused and unexcused absences and absences due to discipline). Generally, the 10 percent equates to 18 days over a school year or two days per month.
As a result of the new legislation, school officials must meet with families when a student has five or more excused absences in a month. The purpose of the conference is to identify barriers to the student’s regular attendance and find solutions and support so the student can regularly come to school.
What is considered an excused absence?
Some examples of excused absences are:
- Illness, health condition or medical appointment;
- Family emergencies;
- Participation in a district or school-approved activity or instructional program;
There are others also, but generally, the ones I’ve mentioned are the most common.
Just to emphasize…all absences…excused, unexcused and suspensions are factored into a student’s attendance. It really doesn’t take very long for the need for a conference with family members and school officials. The idea is to begin the conversation about why the student is absent and explore what can be done to have him/her in school every day.
What is being done to improve attendance?
As a district, we established an attendance committee made up of school principals from each grade level.
The committee developed an attendance handbook to clearly define the requirements of the new law. The handbook is distributed to all families across the district. It includes a sign-off form, that parents and guardians sign and return to schools verifying that they have received and read the handbook.
The committee took a lot of time to define some of the complicated elements related to the new law and practices that we have in place.
We are putting in a lot of effort as well to build awareness about the importance of student attendance and its correlation to student achievement.
Families receive attendance calls at home. We discussed this topic at the district’s recent Parent Connection Council. We have information on our website, in social media, on reader boards and in our community newsletter.
What’s the difference between chronic absenteeism and truancy?
- Counts only unexcused absences;
- Emphasizes compliance with school rules; and
- Relies on legal and administrative solutions.
- Counts all absences: excused, unexcused and suspensions;
- Emphasizes academic impact of missed days; and
- Uses community-based, positive strategies…not punitive measures.
Besides conferences with parents, what else does the new legislation call for?
If school staff find that a student continues to not have regular attendance, even after conferencing with the family and trying different solutions, the school can file a truancy petition. The petition is the trigger for a community truancy board hearing.
Each school district must have a community truancy board. It is required for the first time this year. But, Clover Park School District has been conducting community truancy board hearings for two years already.
What is a truancy board? What is its function?
Really, it is to continue the conversation from the conferences and to meet again one-on-one with the family to determine what barriers are keeping a student from attending school. A truancy hearing is a forum to gain better understanding of the situation and develop a plan for intervention.
Once a plan has been developed, the parents/guardians, student and school representatives sign an agreement and follow through on the plan.
Can you give an example of a situation?
Sure, we’ve had a situation in that a student became homeless and the family didn’t have means to get the student to and from school. During the hearing, they learned that district transportation was available for the student. Once they learned that, transportation was arranged and the student is attending school regularly.
That was an easy fix! The community truancy board hearing is not penalizing, but rather a forum to find solutions.
Some hearings are more complicated; the board, together with the family and student, tries to brainstorm solutions that haven’t been tried before.
Who is on a community truancy board?
Generally, there are four to five people on the board. I am on the board, along with a community member, a school representative and that can be a principal, school counselor, a representative of the court; and sometimes a teacher is on the board.
Anything you’d like to add?
Just to stress the importance of students attending school every day. Obviously, when a student is sick, he or she shouldn’t be in school. I encourage families to schedule doctor appointments outside of the school day or when school is not in session. Hopefully, families avoid taking vacation while school is in session.
While families can pre-arrange for their child’s school work while on vacation, students still miss on learning activities and opportunities that occur on a daily basis that can’t be replicated.
I also think that not everyone realizes how much learning happens in pre-school and kindergarten…I know kindergarten is a LOT different now from when I first started teaching. Kindergarten is full day; there are no naps and students are learning foundational skills especially in reading that build one on top of the other.
I think we have to think about school attendance similar to work attendance.
Parents are their child’s first and most important teachers. They are giving the example; setting the tone and expectations for their children.